Everyone knows that I get stuck on certain prospects throughout the draft process and can’t get off of them, even in light of poor Combine’s, workouts, or off-the-field baggage.
I have to admit this idea came at the behest of a NFLF reader who asked that I did an article on a player at each position that I would want to start my franchise with. In lieu of a ‘what I would do if I were GM’ mock draft, I will supplement it with the 1st annual All-Brad team. In addition to just throwing players out there, I’ll give you some insight into what I look for in prospects which suggest they will become NFL stars.
The QB position is near and dear to my heart as I’ve played and coached the position for most of my life. With that in mind, I’ve hit on more QB prospects of the last four years than I’ve missed on. I have a very specific formula for future success that I look for before I go out on a limb for a guy. Maybe the biggest hit was having Russell Wilson graded as the tenth best prospect in the 2012 NFL Draft. Wilson was a great example of my formula for grading the position. I’ll highlight, in order, what key attributes I look for in a QB to determine success.
- When the play breaks down (due to anything from pressure to No. 1 getting jammed at the line) can they improvise, extend, and create.
- The ‘it’ factor – something about the guy exudes confidence (ex. Russell Wilson voted a captain after less than a month w/teammates)
- How much trust does the OC put in him – shows mastery of system, trust in his ability to get the team into the right play at the right time. Also look to see if they are making necessary adjustments to pressure. If a QB can’t recognize the blitz, he’s immediately downgraded – it’s a staple
- Accuracy at all levels – it’s important to take an inventory of all the throws at all levels to determine accuracy doesn’t dip in any one area.
- Anticipation – this speaks to work ethic. Anticipation is about trusting the receiver is going to be in the right spot at the right time. This only comes with practice and is a sure sign they are working behind the scenes.
Those are my five staples of the quarterback position. If a guy checks all those boxes, it’s likely I’m going to grade them fairly high. This year there is two guys that I check at least four of the five boxes on. They were Teddy Bridgewater and Johnny Manziel. Now, it’s about which guy do I want leading my team.
Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
Manziel is a special player – one that transcends our thought about how the position is played. You don’t see those guys come around often and when they do, you don’t pass on them. What he can be is scary as I don’t think we’ve seen nearly all that he is capable of. That proposition makes him my QB for the All-Brad team.
This is a position that is all about instincts for me. I learned a tough lesson in my evaluation of Trent Richardson. Richardson had/has it all in terms of what a RB looks like. All but the instincts to allow the natural flow of the offense to get him the first three-five yards. The run game is designed to get the running back beyond the first level of defenders with the ideal of getting some coverage at the second level. Guys that lack instincts find ways to screw up the design of the blocking scheme and make blockers look bad. Outside of instincts, can a guy create his own yards in the second and third levels and do they have homerun ability. If I can check off those three boxes, I feel pretty good about a guy. The final box to check is durability. Do they wear down over the course of a quarter, a game, a tough stretch, or a season?
With this in mind, one guy stands out to me this year. I’ve been fortunate to see Carlos Hyde’s practice habits, seen him at field level, and love the player. He’s my top back in this and there’s not much he can’t do.
Carlos Hyde, Ohio State
Hyde does a bit of everything, including catching the football out of the backfield. Hyde still has plenty of tread on his tires as he’s split carries for the bulk of his OSU career. He’s a big, bulky power runner with the feet of a scat back. He’s not going to blow you away with his straight-line speed but his nifty feet in the hole allow him to create when he’s not bulling someone over. Hyde’s played in both pro-style and spread schemes, so he’ll bring that experience into the NFL. Many felt when Urban Meyer brought the spread to OSU that Hyde would be the odd man out. That couldn’t have been further from the truth, as Hyde excelled in Meyer’s system as his patience, vision, agility, instincts, and versatility carried the day.
First and foremost, can the guy catch the ball. If he can’t, he can’t play the position. 1B on my list of critical attributes for the WR position is body control. Can he contort his body in the air and get his eyes and hands back to the catch point. Some have an innate ability to do just that and they are sure to score points if they can. As many of you learned last year, I’m a fan of guys that can track the ball in the vertical game. It really becomes about their focus and that’s the toughest area to do so. If a guy can track the ball in the vertical game it’s likely they will have the focus to track it in traffic, when they don’t have the sideline to worry about. Lastly, I like strong receivers – guys that can catch in traffic, take contact, and get off press coverage with strength.
This year there are two guys that checked off those boxes better than most. While one is my top rated receiver the other is down the line a bit. The third is a guy will round us out in the slot.
Sammy Watkins, Clemson
If you were drawing up a prototype of what I was talking about in the previous description it would be Sammy Watkins. Notice I didn’t have size as a top attribute and that’s the only thing holding Watkins back from being talked about in the Calvin Johnson/A.J. Green category. Watching Watkins play the position is fun as he can do a little bit of everything really well. I like Mike Evans as much as the next guy but the talk of him being rated ahead of Watkins on any board is absurd in my book.
Jared Abbrederis, Wisconsin
I’m still trying to wrap my head around what this kid is missing outside of ideal size for the position. He catches the ball, runs great routes, has body control, and will be a quarterback’s best friend from day one. Yeah, he isn’t the strongest receiver in this draft but show me an example of him avoiding contact or the lack of strength negatively affecting his performance and I’ll eat my words…but you won’t.
Josh Huff, Oregon
This was tough because I love Michael Campanaro so much. But I love what Huff gives our team after the catch. Huff is a guy that is a RB when he secures the catch. He’s built like a RB with the strength to run you over and the speed to run by you.
See WR description. Look my offense is going to call for a TE to function as a receiver most of the time and I’m under the impression that we can teach anyone to block adequately enough to stay on the field 100% of the time.
Jace Amaro, Texas Tech
Amaro has everything that I’m looking for in the position. He’s a more than adequate blocker with the ability to play the hybrid role as well as anyone in this draft. I take Amaro over Eric Ebron everyday of the week and twice on May 8.
My rule of thumb with offensive lineman is fairly simple. You can add weight to a guy but rarely can a guy gain the agility necessary to be an effective move blocker. The former TE’s turned in tackles hold a special play in my OL heart. I’ve witnessed those guys make successful transitions more often than not. While it’s not a focus, I will take a long look at those types.
Outside of body type and agility, being smart is as critical at this position as any on the field outside of QB. Offensive lineman have to be well studied and willing to put in the work to be really good at their craft. With DC’s attempting to confuse these guys more than ever it’s critical that these guys can adjust in the moment.
Lastly do they have a short memory? I’ve found OL is a feel position and sometimes can be about rhythm and confidence. When a guy gets beat does he get beat the rest of the series, quarter, or game? If they do, it’s a red flag for me.
Look I love Greg Robinson – he’s my top overall player but I don’t want to throw out the obvious. The same can be said for Jake Matthews, so we’ll go beyond the top two for these guys. After all it’s almost cheating if we just went with the top rated guys at each position.
Zack Martin, Notre Dame
Martin is at worst an All-Pro offensive guard. At best he turns into an All-Pro tackle and I would bet on the latter. Martin is as smart as any OL in this draft and his technique rivals Jake Matthews. I think if he’s drafted outside the top in the draft, it constitutes a steal.
Billy Turner, North Dakota State
Turner may not be ready day one as a pass protector and probably is best suited to play on the right side. That said, this pick could pay huge dividends down the road. Turner is a guy that I enjoy watching play the tackle position – not something I can always say. He’s a guy that could wind up play any spot on our line outside of center, so we’ll add to the versatility of our line with this one.
Xavier Su’a-Filo, UCLA
Plug and play guard that checks all the boxes. He’s smart, athletic, and has the short memory I look for out of an OL. Su’a-Filo has played tackle at UCLA and I have no doubts that he could play there. Although I think he’s our LG to start out.
Charles Leno, Boise State
I think Leno winds up being a steal in this draft. He’s another guy that could play tackle or guard. In his case, I think he’s best suited for a move inside, although I won’t rule out him playing tackle. He’s scheme diverse but don’t expect him to be a day one road grader in the run game. In due time, I’d bet Leno is a starting guard for many years.
Weston Richburg, Colorado State
Richburg is everything I want in a center. He’s smart, versatile, and shouldn’t be on the board after the second round concludes. For some perspective, Travis Frederick went in the first last year and Richburg is a world better than him in my book. If you’re looking for a guy that can shoulder the load of the line calls and gives you the feet, strength, and technique to excel in any scheme – look no further.
My first staple for DT’s is quick, strong hands. I’ve found some of the best DT’s that I’ve evaluated have had this common trait. Guys that are passive or finesse with their hands usually don’t wind up being successful at the next level.
The second item I value is guys that can move down the line and have the short area quickness to beat the blocker to the point. I don’t want someone that does too much thinking or has to try to do too much to beat his man. It’s fairly simple, guys that can win with aggressive hands and quickness. At the end of the day these guys are charges with disrupting the backfield.
The other prerequisite is they can anchor against the run and win the line of scrimmage. My personal favorites are the short, squat former wrestlers that can win with leverage. Find me one of those guys with speed and I’m happy.
This year brings one of my favorites since I’ve been evaluating. Last year I loved Sheldon Richardson but I really love Aaron Donald. My second guy is another personal favorite that I think can be a day one impact player.
Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh
If ever there were a DT created for what we are looking for it’s Aaron Donald. While many view his build as a negative, I couldn’t see it further from reality. His short stature just adds to his lore in my mind. His quickness is the most glaring trait but it’s his strength that grabs the eye when evaluating Donald. Donald played around 285 pounds, yet you rarely see him lose one-on-one battles at the line and often beats double teams with his combination of strength and quickness.
Caraun Reid, Princeton
I may be more intrigued with Caraun Reid than any other prospect in this draft. Reid flashed fairly consistently for me when watching him blow through Ivy League competition. Clearly he’ll face stiffer competition at the next level but his skill set lends itself to success, no matter the competition. I think Reid could be one of the steals of this draft if he makes it out of the third round.
This is a position that I heavily weight towards one’s explosion. I closely watch the DE’s at the Combine (this is one position that I think we can learn a lot about from testing). An off-the-charts workout in the explosion tests more often than not leads to future success at this position. Why is it so important to find explosive athletes at this position? Pass rushers have a three-to-five yard window to get their shoulder past the shoulder of a tackle. If they can do that, they can create havoc in the backfield. Those that can’t win in that window more than a handful of times a game usually wind up mediocre at the next level.
In addition to explosion, I want to see a player that can play with his eyes. It’s great to be a phenom pass rusher but if you can’t recognize and diagnose the play quickly you’re only good for thirty snaps a game. The truly great ends of my time were equally effective on run downs as they were on pass downs. Guys like Reggie White and Bruce Smith could cause havoc down in and down out because of their ability to quickly diagnose the action and maintain scheme integrity. Just flying up the field after the quarterback isn’t going to cut it.
What separates the good from great one’s in college is their repertoire of pass rush moves. Guys that can fly sometimes can only fly and that won’t cut it at the next level. This is something that can be taught but guys coming in with two or three solid techniques will weigh heavily on my scale.
This year it’s all about Clowney and rightfully so. I usually would take a pass on a guy with questionable work ethic but Clowney is the prototype at the position and we need a pass rusher that can get sacks in bulk. My other DE is a guy that flew under my radar. The limited prep time this year didn’t allow me a great look at Crichton, so he’s a guy that I’m late to the party on. I’ll try and make up for it by making him Clowney’s counterpart.
Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina
All has been said with Clowney. Did he play his heart out this season? I don’t know and don’t really care. My defensive staff will keep him motivated as will the glory from being one of the league’s top pass rushers.
Scott Crichton, Oregon State
Crichton is put together. My only question is where to play him – left or right side. We’ll find a spot for him. I watched three games and walked away thinking I don’t know how he does it but he finds a way to disrupt the backfield consistently. He’s not the most athletic, a little stiff, but wins with a dynamic motor and just enough burst.
Without going into all the details of linebacker evaluations I wanted a pass rusher on the strong side and a pursuit-coverage linebacker on the weakside. In the middle I want a tough, hard-nosed guy that was highly productive in college. The MLB spot is one that I weigh towards production as it shows a guy with instincts which is 1A on my list of needed attributes for the position.
I think I’ve formed a perfect blend of what I was looking for with these three guys.
Chris Borland, Wisconsin
Borland was a highly productive and hard-nosed MLB in the Big Ten. Sign me up. Yes, he’s undersized and has some durability concerns but I don’t want to pass on a guy of his caliber because of those two items. With Aaron Donald and Chris Borland rushing the passer on the interior, teams are going to have a tough time stopping us on defense.
Khalil Mack, Buffalo
Was there a better playmaker in college football on the defensive side of the ball than Mack? Including Clowney. Mack racked up huge tackles for loss, forced fumbles, and sack numbers throughout his time at Buffalo. I’m not concerned in the least about level of competition because he dominated no matter who was in front of him, including playing arguably his best game against OSU this season.
Ryan Shazier, Ohio State
Shazier is a freak athlete that will allow to cause havoc in the pass game. With guys like Donald, Clowney, Mack, and Borland bringing the pressure, Shazier is going to reap the rewards as he’ll be a guy we can stick in coverage on any assignment. In addition he’s one of the best closers at the position which will allow him to roam sideline to sideline to make big play after big play.
I look for diverse corners first and foremost. Give me a guy that can play all disciplines equally well over a guy that excels at any one particular technique. I want guys that can physical at the line and disrupt the timing of routes more than I want really fast guys that play trail technique all game long.
From a physical attributes standpoint, I want guys that are quick and explosive more than straight-line fast. A 40 time is somewhat important but isn’t make or break. A guy that runs 4.6 but can break on the ball with explosive burst is A OK in my book.
I think the reason it takes time for a lot of corners to develop is getting use to studying their opponents. Often times in college, corners rely on their athletic ability rather than tape study of opposing receivers. In the NFL, every advantage counts and knowing tendencies will pay big dividends. With the study comes two important traits – anticipation and recognition.
Lastly, this is a position that relies on a little bit of the ‘it’ factor. A little bit of cockiness goes a long way as these guys have to have short memories and at the end of the day win the war, not the battle.
Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech
I’ll start my team with Kyle Fuller as my No. 1 corner. Fuller brings the diversity that I seek at the position. He’s play off man, press man, and zone at VT and does all almost equally well. In addition, he’s one of the best run supporters in the draft at the position, so I won’t have to worry about him as a tackler.
Jason Verrett, TCU
I don’t care where he plays – slot or outside – but just put him on my team. Verrett doesn’t have ideal size but he’s as good as anyone in the draft at the position. If he were two inches taller we’d be talking about him as a top 10 corner in the draft.
Pierre Desir, Lindenwood
To round out our crew we get a little size in the defensive backfield. The small school standout makes a ton of plays on the ball and we will coach him up and turn him into a big time player in the league. He more than held his own on the all-star circuit this offseason, so I have no worries about him at the next level.
I’ve preached about interchangeable pieces in the backend. I don’t want a traditional free safety and strong safety. Give me guys that I can play at either spot and switch them up if needed. I want guys that can play at the line and cover enough ground in the backend to make QB’s think twice about testing us vertically.
Range is huge for me at this position. I don’t necessarily need a 4.4 guy in the backend but I can’t have two tight-hipped safeties in my group. I want guys that have the agility to flip their hips and run with Jimmy Graham or Wes Welker.
Like the cornerback position, this is a position that requires high levels of film study to be a really great one. Guys that are consistently sucked up or out of position can’t play on this squad.
Our two guys this year are guys that can play traditional strong or weak safety spots. In Jimmie Ward’s case we can slide him down to the slot to cover as he’s basically a corner in an almost-safety body. Deone Bucannon is a guy that I’ve been in love with for over two years and will make a great safety on this squad.
Jimmie Ward, Northern Illinois
What Jimmie Ward lacks in size he makes up for with his ability to make plays in the backend. He’s a fluid athlete with loose hips and can cover anyone on the field. You wouldn’t know Ward was about 195 pounds watching his tape as he is often one of the most vicious strikers on the field and plays well at the line of scrimmage.
Deone Bucannon, Washington State
Bucannon is one of the most physically intimidating safeties in football, notice I left out college. He will knock you out and I love it. He’ll be our intimidator in the backend and play the more traditional strong safety role. Don’t get Bucannon’s prowess as a hitter confused as he has the range and ball skills to cover as well.